Saturday, November 15, 2008

Violent incidents in South Florida schools

• Miami Edison Senior High, March 2008: Police were called to the school after a violent melee broke out in the cafeteria. Two dozen students were arrested; a half dozen suffered injuries.

• Miami Norland High, February 2008: Javaris Cross, 17, was shot in the left ear while trying to break up a fight.

• North Dade Academy, February 2008: A 14-year-old girl attempted to gun down the principal who expelled her more than a year earlier. The gun jammed.

• Miami Carol City Senior, 2007: Teacher Sergio Miranda was shot in the back while taking a cigarette break outside school. The gunman, who had tried to rob Miranda and another teacher, was not a student at the school.

• William Dandy Middle, Fort Lauderdale, 2007: A 13-year-old girl slashed another, 15, in the face with a razor blade.

• Parkway Charter Academy, Miramar, 2005: On the bus to school, Camille Burke shot and wounded classmate Kaliesha Cheatham. Classmates said Cheatham and her friends taunted Burke about her hairstyle the day before. Burke pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and possession of firearm on school property and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

• Southwood Middle, Miami-Dade, 2004: Knife-wielding Michael Hernandez, 14, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of best friend Jaime Gough. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

• Piper High, Sunrise, 2002: Kern O'Sullivan stabbed and killed football player Courtney Carroll in the heart with a screwdriver. Sullivan was sentenced to six years probation after pleading guilty to charges of manslaughter.

• Lake Worth Middle, 2000: Student Nathaniel Brazill shot and killed teacher Barry Grunow on the last day of school because he was angry about being sent home for throwing a water balloon. Brazill was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

• Miami Killian High, 1996: At least two students were arrested and two others were badly beaten in a fight between blacks and Hispanics that spilled into the streets.

Father's imprisonment took toll on Dillard High shooting suspect


Teah Wimberly was a musically gifted daddy's girl.

The 15-year-old played four instruments and joined the Dillard High School marching band in hopes of one day playing in front of her father, Jevon Wimberly, an aspiring comedian and the girl's primary caregiver.

But Wimberly's goal was dashed after her father was jailed in 2006 for attempted murder. His sudden absence -- worsened by his refusal to let her visit -- sent Wimberly into a depression and triggered a troubling change in her behavior, court documents revealed.

Letters from family and friends hint that Wimberly's life went into a gradual tailspin that ended Wednesday, when she was arrested and charged with fatally shooting her longtime friend, 15-year-old Amanda Collette, in a school hallway.

''I wanted her to feel pain like me,'' Wimberly told Fort Lauderdale police after her arrest. Broward County prosecutors said Thursday they will charge her -- as an adult -- with first-degree murder.

According to friends, the girls had exchanged a series of emotional text messages Tuesday. Among them: messages from Wimberly professing her love for Collette and her rejection of her advances.

Wimberly had faced rejection before.

Her mother, Char Merritt Aukland, entered the U.S. Army after the girl was born and left Wimberly in the care of her paternal grandparents. Aukland, who now lives in Virginia, signed over temporary guardianship of her daughter to the grandmother in 1998 and reappeared in the child's life in 2001.

However, she has not maintained a relationship with Wimberly, who ''rarely visits her mother,'' court records said.


Though Wimberly's grandparents were an important part of her life -- they took her into their Fort Lauderdale home after her father was arrested -- court records show there was an inseparable bond between the girl and her father that, when cut, scarred her deeply. Jevon Wimberly is serving a 25-year sentence.

''Wimberly constantly asks when her father will be home, but no one has the answer at this time,'' wrote Cynthia Thomas, a sentencing consultant who interviewed members of Wimberly's family a year ago about how her life was affected by her father's imprisonment.

``The Wimberlys are concerned for [her] as she has been affected terribly by her father's absence.''

Wimberly's grandfather, John Wimberly, is a retired assistant supervisor for the state Department of Juvenile Justice who had more than 30 years of experience dealing with troubled youths.

Wimberly's grandmother, Shirley Wimberly, is a retired supervisor of the Broward County Office of Information Technology, where she worked for 30 years.

Several letters written by family, friends and clergy -- meant to sway the judge during Jevon Wimberly's sentencing for second-degree attempted murder on Dec. 7, 2007 -- all stress how his absence affected Wimberly.

The formerly promising teen became an uncontrollable behavior problem for her grandparents, according to court files.

The records do not explain the nature of the behavior problem, but they state that even neighbors noticed the change.

Wimberly, who barely knew her estranged mother, became so distraught that she was taken to a psychologist to help her cope, court documents state.

In a Nov. 25, 2007, letter to Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy III, Wimberly pleaded for mercy for her father. Included were pictures of Jevon and Teah Wimberly that displayed how close the two were.

In most of the pictures, the father was smiling as he embraced his only daughter.

''I want to take the time out to say I really love my daddy. All my life I've had my daddy and our bond is really strong,'' Wimberly wrote. ``When I found out he was gone I was really sad. We mean the world to each other, and I really want him back.''

Jevon Wimberly, known on stage as ''J Baby,'' was an up-and-coming comedian who often headlined shows at the Miami Improv.

He was Wimberly's primary caretaker since college, court documents show.

Wimberly developed a love for music and played the bassoon, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone and tuba. Her father was very supportive, becoming a band parent and active PTA member who chaperoned field trips and performances, court documents said.

''He hasn't missed a musical,'' Wimberly's grandfather wrote to Murphy.


In 2006, Jevon Wimberly was engaged, being scouted for a part in a sitcom and had just bought a two-bedroom town house in Lauderhill when his future was derailed by gunfire.

On Oct. 10, police reports state, Wimberly shot a man in the shoulder over a dispute involving a bag of missing DVDs.

Ever since, at Wimberly's request, his daughter was not allowed to see him and had never visited him in jail or since he was moved to a North Florida prison, ''because he does not want her to be subjected to the surroundings of the jail,'' wrote Thomas, the sentencing consultant.

They did speak on the phone frequently, however, records show.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A teen gets life while other killers get deal


All murders aren't the same.

Michael Hernandez, 14 and delusional when he stabbed his classmate to death in 2004, was given a life sentence last week. No parole.

Three days earlier, in Broward circuit court, Lonnie Lauriston, 23 when he beat 4-year-old D'Hamonie Francois to death, was sentenced to three years in prison.

In Palm Beach County this summer, Charles Tyson, 22, managed a 40-year deal after tossing his 9-month-old son from a moving car, then throwing him into a canal.

Charles Tyson will get out of prison. Michael Hernandez won't.

Jordy Foster, 24, of Lauderdale Lakes, also could outlive his prison sentence. In September, he got 45 years for killing a 2-month-old.

Olivia Gonzalez-Mendoza left prison in May after serving 15 years of her 40-year sentence for the abuse and murder of the child Miami knew as Baby Lollipops.


A mentally ill child sentenced to life without parole makes a brutal contrast to so many Florida killers canny enough to cop a plea.

Next week, Angel Toro, 55, a one-time member of the notorious Macheteros terrorist group who took a deal, leaves prison after serving 24 years for killing a bouncer in a Miami strip club.

Moise Opont, 19, of Poinciana near Kissimmee, took the deal. Ten days before Michael Hernandez was given his life sentence, Opont, who had a juvenile record and was on a burglary spree when he raped and murdered a 99-year-old woman, copped to second-degree murder.

Under the conceit of the Florida justice system, Michael was considered competent enough to reject the advice of his lawyer and turn down a 40-year deal for the stabbing death of a classmate at Miami-Dade's Southwood Middle School. As if a disturbed teen was as able as any adult to weigh the consequences of such a decision.

Unlike Michael, all but one of the teenage killers of a homeless man in Fort Lauderdale in 2006 will have another chance on the outside.

It's plain, looking at other murder cases settled in Florida this year, that the quality of the victim influences the sentence.

In Sarasota, two thugs received sentences of 30 and 15 years in February for the rape and murder of a homeless woman.


In September in New Port Richey, Adam Jones, 25, cut a plea deal -- 25 years for the murder and robbery of a drug dealer. In Shalimar near Fort Walton Beach, the kidnapping, robbery and murder of a drug dealer came out to 20 years in a plea deal for a career criminal named Marcus ''Meatball'' Gray. In Jacksonville, Leo Toby got 35 years for robbing and killing a drug dealer. In Palm Beach County, a 16-year-old got 25 years for killing a 9-year-old in a drive-by shooting. But it was a lousy neighborhood.

Earlier this year, Alex King, just 12 when he and his brother were convicted of crushing their father's head with a baseball bat in 2002, was released from state prison. His brother Derek, a year older, gets out next year.

At the same time Michael was on trial in September, a Miami jury heard mob hit man John Martorano testify in the trial of an FBI agent gone bad. Martorano, who admits to 20 murders, had served 12 years.

Martorano also could testify that all murderers aren't treated equally. It helps to be a career criminal, old enough and wily enough and sane enough to take the deal. Everything Michael wasn't.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

THE MADDIE CLIFTON SAGA: Her killer fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family

By Paul Pinkham,
The Times-Union

Few homicides have dominated Northeast Florida's consciousness like the murder 10 years ago Monday of Maddie Clifton.

Just 8 years old, she disappeared on Election Day from her family's Lakewood home. For a week she was simply gone. Hundreds of people searched Dumpsters and woods around the secluded Southside neighborhood. Police sealed off the area and interviewed neighbors. Yellow ribbons sprung up everywhere as people hoped and prayed Maddie would be found.

A week later, Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover made a grim and emotional announcement. Maddie's body had been found, stuffed under the water bed of her 14-year-old neighbor and playmate, Josh Phillips. Josh's mother made the discovery and alerted police. Thousands lined San Jose Boulevard for Maddie's funeral procession.

Phillips was indicted as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in Polk County, where his trial was moved because of publicity in Jacksonville. He was sentenced to a mandatory life term in prison, where he remains today.Phillips' story:

BOWLING GREEN - Josh Phillips remembers the exact moment he wrapped his teenaged mind around his life prison sentence.

At 16, he'd already been locked up two years for murdering his 8-year-old Jacksonville neighbor, Maddie Clifton.

He left the prison chow hall to see a line of gray-haired inmates with walkers and canes. The pill line.

"I was like, 'Wow, that's going to be me,' and that's when it really hit me," Phillips told the Times-Union in an exclusive interview at Hardee Correctional Institution. "I got real depressed when that happened. Then I realized ... it's going to be 60 years before I look like them."

Monday marks 10 years since Maddie vanished from her Lakewood home.

Her disappearance gripped Jacksonville like no other. Hundreds of volunteers combed through her secluded Southside neighborhood. Maddie's Kool-Aid smile graced billboards and T-shirts throughout the city. Images of her agonized parents dominated the news.

A week later, her body was found across the street by Phillips' mother, entombed under her son's water bed. The 14-year-old with no history of violence told police he panicked after accidentally hitting Maddie with a ball while playing because he was afraid of his dad's reaction. He said he beat her with a bat and stabbed her to keep her from crying. Authorities believe he killed her in his bedroom.

He was charged as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to a mandatory life prison term, with no hope of parole. The judge called him "monstrous."

Now 24, the boy who killed Maddie has grown up in prison. Oddly, the experience doesn't seem to have hardened him. But it has changed him.

Gone is the gangly, expressionless teenager who looked on flatly as his fate was sealed. In its place is a seasoned lifer who speaks of empathy and morality and fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family.

"I have this little apology litany that I go through to make certain that she knows that I'm sorry and also that I'm trying to make her life worth something. I'm trying because I'm still here," he said. "I want to be someone who can relieve suffering."

A week in denial Phillips said he thinks about Maddie all the time. It usually happens when he starts feeling sorry for himself.

"I start thinking, 'Man, it really sucks I missed out on this and that.' And as soon as I get there, I think, 'What did she miss out on?' " he said.

Those thoughts are far deeper than what was in his mind the week Maddie was missing.

He wouldn't discuss the murder with the Times-Union but said that week, as cops and strangers swarmed his neighborhood, he was in denial. He had Maddie's missing-child flier on his night stand and even helped hand out fliers.

He said it never occurred to him to run.

"Through the entire time, I was putting myself in a fantasy world that nothing had happened. That was my defense mechanism for everything when I was a kid," he said. "I never made the decision ... to ignore it. I just did."

State Attorney Harry Shorstein used that against him at trial, arguing that Phillips' ability to carry on with his victim under his bed was a sign of coldness.

Once in jail, he wouldn't talk about the case, not even with his lawyer, Richard D. Nichols. And Nichols did little to coax him, Phillips said. Nichols has since died.

"He didn't even really try to find out what happened," Phillips said. "I didn't help him."

He said their infrequent jail visits consisted of chess matches on a homemade board Phillips fashioned in his cell. Neither he nor his parents knew anything about the law, so when Nichols decided at trial not to call witnesses, they assumed he knew what he was doing, Phillips said. He said his mother questioned the strategy, but his father, now deceased, told them to trust the lawyer.

Had Nichols mounted a defense, jurors could have convicted Phillips of a lesser charge like second-degree murder or manslaughter, which would have meant a shorter sentence, said Phillips' new attorney, Thomas Fallis. Nichols' defense strategy is the subject of an appeal Fallis is preparing.

As one of Florida's youngest inmates, Phillips was an anomaly to the prison system. When he looks back now, he realizes he was lucky.

Too naive to know who meant him harm, he said he was fortunate to fall in with a group of older inmates who taught him how to survive and stay out of trouble. And he said he realizes that prison officials were protecting him by limiting his time in the yard and housing him in open barracks instead of a cell.

A chance at redemption

Two of the Jacksonville officials most responsible for Phillips' sentence now have second thoughts.

"It was a draconian sentence," Shorstein said. "If there were a case for executive clemency or parole, I would support it. Not for it to be done today, but for reconsideration of the life sentence."

Shorstein said he has no qualms about charging Phillips as an adult or with first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory life sentence. Those were the right decisions at the time because the crime was so shocking, he said.

But Shorstein said he regrets not offering a second-degree murder plea, which would have given the judge discretion, particularly because Phillips appeared to be a shy, normal teen who liked computers.

He said the law needs to take into account psychiatric research since 1999 that shows teens Phillips' age are less culpable than adults because their brains aren't developed enough to grasp long-term consequences or completely control impulses.

Former Sheriff Nat Glover agreed there needs to be accountability, but also hope for redemption.

"I know some people thought that sentence was appropriate, but that was a tough sentence for someone that young," Glover said. "I never got the feeling that it was a malicious, mean-spirited, calculated murder. It was kind of an impulsive act that, given a different set of circumstances, would never have happened."

Nationally there is a slow trend away from the tough juvenile sanctions wrought by a spike in violent crime in the '90s, said Northwestern University law professor Steven Drizin. Some states have eliminated life without parole in youth murder cases, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down death sentences for juveniles in 2005 based on the new research.

Florida Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, tried unsuccessfully for years to pass legislation that would allow parole for juvenile felons younger than 16. Even mass murderer Charles Manson comes up for parole, Geller said.

One of those who blocked the legislation was state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, former chairman of the criminal justice committee. Wise doubts lawmakers will ever undo the '90s legislation because they don't want to be responsible for releasing someone from prison who then commits a heinous crime.

"At what point do you become rehabilitated?" Wise said. "You can't know the future."

Maddie's mother said Phillips' sentence is appropriate.

"Josh did get a life sentence, but Maddie got the death sentence. She was only 8 years old," Sheila Clifton Delongis said. "He should not be cut a deal just because he was 14."

Delongis said she knew Phillips as a neighbor and has no doubt he knew right from wrong.

The need for hope

Phillips has dreams of freedom, but admits they might not be realistic.

"My sense is I'm going to get out one day. Whether I really believe it or not is not really the point," he said. "I just kind of superficially believe it enough to keep me going.

"I really don't know if I deserve it or not, but I know I want ... a second chance. Maybe I deserve to die in prison ... but I can't look at it like that. Doing that is just a cop-out. ... Why would I try to learn anything? Why would I try to improve myself? Why would I try to help anybody if I'm just going to lay down and die in here?"

Part of him is thankful he was prosecuted as an adult. It's a paradox. If he'd been tried in juvenile court, he'd be free now. But he doesn't think he'd be as rehabilitated or mature if he hadn't had to come to terms with dying in prison. He also said he would have been more easily manipulated in a juvenile facility, where peer pressure is stronger.

"It might have gone worse for me in some respects," he said.

Except for his mother, who visits faithfully, and the occasional letter from one of his brothers, Phillips has had no contact with anyone from his past.

He's also had no contact with Maddie's family. People have suggested he write them an apology letter, an idea he rejects as "cheesy."

"They deserve to hear it from me personally ... so they can see the sincerity," he said. "They won't be able to see it in a letter. They won't be able to see it in a phone call or ... on TV."

Delongis said she has no interest in talking to her daughter's killer, but Maddie's sister does. Now 21, Jessie Clifton said she wants to meet with him to get some answers.

"He changed my life," she said. "I'm not going there to be mean. I'm not going there to be rude. I just want to talk to him."

Maddie would be 18 today, probably in college. She'd likely be driving, working, dating - all the rites of youth.

Despite his incarceration, Phillips has been able to do some of those things. He got his GED, though initially prison officials told him he was too young. He's taken some correspondence college classes, and he works as a paralegal helping other inmates with their appeals.

He also plays guitar in a prison band and participates in a Christian prison ministry, Zen meditation and yoga. He can't imagine hurting anyone now.

"I've grown a lot," he said. "This has taught me to understand just about anybody's pain. I've learned to ... almost completely put myself in someone else's shoes and really feel whatever they're feeling.

"It's taught me to be a better person.", (904) 359-4107

Saturday, November 1, 2008

For Immediate Release - Tyler Edmonds Finally Receives Justice


November 1st, 2008


Justice for Juveniles advocates nationwide applaud the wise 12 jurors who listened to the facts and found Tyler Edmonds, not guilty on all charges in the death of Joey Fulgham. Cari Barichello, Co-Administrator of the nationwide online children's advocate group said " To say we are extremely pleased over
the not guilty verdict today is an understatement to say the least. Tyler has remained one of our largest priorities since his nightmare began at age 13, because we believed that Tyler was a victim of Kristi Fulgham just as Joey was." Barichello says that Tyler has stayed positive because of his Christian faith and love from his many friends, family and supporters throughout his tragic 6- year ordeal.

Donna Gallegos of said " This is a joyous day for Tyler and those who love and support him." Gallegos says Justice for Juveniles is extremely grateful to Barry Synder, a North Miami Beach criminal defense attorney who assisted Jim Waide and Victor Fleitas of Waide and Associates in Tupelo, by providing his expertise to the defense team who never gave up and fought a long hard battle
to prove Edmonds innocence. Without the assistance of The Innocence project of Mississippi, Amy Singer, CEO and founder of Trial Consultants Inc. a Fort Lauderdale Florida Jury Consulting firm, Radley Balko senior editor of Reason magazine and and many others, Edmonds would be spending his entire life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The Mississippi State Attorney insisted on wasting Mississippi's taxpayer dollars and most of Edmonds youth by trying 13- year old Edmonds twice after the Mississippi Appeals court overturned Edmonds first conviction. " As an child advocate for several years, I must say Tyler's prosecution is another sad example of America's justice system losing sight of what justice is suppose to be when children
are suspected or accused of crimes. Children are not adults and need not be destroyed in the name of vengeance, the way this boy's life almost was." Said John Osborn from New Jersey.


In January 2007 the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Tyler Edmonds who was 13 years old when charged with 1st degree murder of his half sisters husband, Joey Fulgham.

Tyler was convicted in July of 2004, with no forensic evidence other than a false confession he made after his half sister begged him to lie for her. Tyler recanted the confession a couple of days later. Tyler's half sister, Kristi Fulgham was convicted in December 2006 for Joey Fulgham's murder and sentenced to death.

The Mississippi Supreme court agreed that Dr. Stephen Hayne who performed the autopsy on Joey Fulgham, over-reached beyond his area of expertise when he stated that two fingers pulled the trigger of the 22-caliber rifle used to kill Joey Fulgham. The Supreme Court found that Dr. Haynes testimony was scientifically unfounded but carried heavy weight with jurors. The rifle was never recovered.

Edmonds adult half sister was convicted of the murder and sits on death row.


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